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Teflon Poisoning

Other Names: Polytetrafluoroethylene Toxicosis,Teflon Flu, Polymer Fume Fever

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), otherwise known as Teflon, is a synthetic polymer or resin, that omits several gases into the air of its surroundings. PTFE is marketed under the trade name Teflon. Although it is not widely known or discussed, there have been many incidents of poisonings in humans associated with exposure to PTFE at high temperatures or in enclosed environments, where it is referred to as polymer fume fever or teflon flu. However, in contrast to humans, due to their sensitive respiratory system, birds are highly susceptible to the toxic effects of PTFE, especially when confined to an enclosed environment or when exposed to high temperatures such as heat lamp bulbs, fire, or cooking with nonstick pans.

The respiratory system of birds is designed for maximum efficiency, consisting of a unidirectional airflow that increases the concentration of gases contained within inhaled air. Thus, when birds inhale the PTFE fumes it actually increases the concentration of the toxic gasses. The poisonous gases released by the product damage the capillary endothelial cells, allowing fluid and blood to leak into the airways. This causes a decrease in oxygen supply in the body, leading to suffocation and death.

PTFE is used in numerous applications, some of which include:
  • Wiring for computers (hookup wires, coaxial cables)
  • Non-stick cookware
  • Ironing board covers
  • Heat lamp bulbs
  • Waterproof fabric used for outdoor apparel and many horse blankets.
  • Fabric protection for repelling stains
  • Orthopedic footwear and other medical devices used to prevent and relieve friction-induced blisters, calluses, and foot ulcers for humans.

Clinical Signs

Difficulty breathing
Open-mouth breathing
Lateral recumbency
Sudden death


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Necropsy

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Aerosol toxicoses in a Kestrels Aerosol toxicoses were diagnosed in two unrelated cases. In one case, two American kestrels died within 30 minutes of each other after showing respiratory signs minutes prior to death. Both birds were housed in a room where an oven was used immediately prior to the onset of their respiratory signs. The oven had been repaired weeks earlier for a gas leak. Both birds had red, wet lungs on gross examination and no other gross or microscopic findings. The second case involved seven of seven indoor parakeets that died in a 24-hour period. The lungs of the two birds submitted were dark red and wet and histologically there was marked pulmonary congestion, hemorrhage and edema. The owner regularly used teflon-coated cooking pans. Ref

  • Case 2: Polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis in a Chicks Two flocks of recently hatched baby chicks were seen acting lethargic and in acute respiratory distress, apparent by open-beak breathing. 60 out of 65 of the 4 day old birds, and 8 out of 10 of the 2 week old birds, died. Necropsy and histopathology results revealed the birds died of pulmonary hemorrhage and edema. Similar clinical signs were observed in flocks kept in the same area twice before. The birds were housed in brooders heated by shatter-proof heat lamp bulbs which were coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Ref

  • Case 3: Polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis in a Broiler chickens A poultry research facility that housed 2400 Peterson x Hubbard cross broilers (48 pens of 50 chicks each) experienced 4% mortality within 24 hr of chick placement. Mortality started within 4 hr of placement, and within 72 hr, cumulative mortality had reached 52%. Mild dyspnea was the only clinical sign noted in some chicks prior to death. The primary gross lesion noted in the chicks submitted was moderate to severe pulmonary congestion. The lungs of four of these chicks sank in formalin, and blood-tinged fluid was noted in the mouth and nares of two chicks. The microscopic lesions noted in the affected chicks were moderate to severe pulmonary edema and congestion. The diagnosis indicated to the submitter was that pulmonary edema caused by exposure to an unidentified noxious gas caused the death of the chicks. The poultry house environment was tested for sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (as produced by combustion engines); all tests were negative for significant levels of these compounds. A second broiler flock was placed in the same facility and the mortality at 6 wk was 11%, which was greater than the 2.5%-4.7% mortality seen in the previous four flocks on the farm. Further investigation revealed that the only change in management practice in this facility prior to the onset of the severe mortality problem was the replacement of 48 heat lamp bulbs (one for each pen). The new heat lamp bulbs were polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated. Ref

  • Case 4: Polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis in a Budgerigars Thirty-two budgerigars were exposed to pyrolysis products of either heated PTFE cookware or plain aluminum cookware in a specially designed exposure chamber for given periods. Clinical signs were recorded and necropsies were done on all birds at the termination of each exposure period. The PTFE products caused acute respiratory distress and rapid death in many of the exposed birds. At necropsy, lesions were seen only in the respiratory tract--extensive pulmonary hemorrhage and congestion. Ref

  • Case 5: Polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis in a Cockatiels Five cockatiels died within 30 minutes following exposure to fumes from a frying pan coated with the "non-stick" plastic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that had accidentally overheated. Within an hour the owner developed symptoms of "polymer fume fever" but recovered in the next 24 hours. Ref

  • Case 6: Polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis in a Psittacines A flock of psittacine birds developed severe and fatal pneumonitis after inhalation of compounds emitted from burned foods. Ref


Supportive care: Relocate the chicken to an open area with good ventilation and airflow that does not contain products containing PTFE or cigarette smoke. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.:



  • Avoid exposing birds to products that contain PTFE, even at normal room temperatures.
  • Do not use heat lamp bulbs that contain Teflon, or heat lamps in general.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Exposure to PTFE products
  • Prior exposure to cigarette fumes

Also Consider